CHAPTER TWO

ATTACK

At precisely 05.30 on 16 December 1944, the massed guns and Werfers opened up. All hell was let loose along the front. The artillery was extremely accurate and immediately communication lines were severed. Shells rained down on the American positions and Clervaux was saturated with rockets.

Cursing men half asleep, in the area for a supposed rest, spilled from their beds totally unaware of what was going on. Colonel Fuller was one of these men. He rushed downstairs to his operations room, just off the hotel lobby, only to be told that all communication to his front line units were out, and worse still, contact had been lost with General Norman D Cota at Divisional Headquarters in the town of Wiltz, seven miles southwest of them.

Along Skyline Drive, the 26th VGD were in and around the Americans before they realized what was going on. The thick fog early that morning made it difficult to determine who was friend or foe.

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THE GERMAN BREAKTHROUGH

Ludwig Lindemann

‘It was still dark when, at 5 am, a mighty drumfire of artillery, smoke-shell mortars, multiple rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns suddenly opened up. We could see the land in front of our sector, near Hosingen, erupting with explosions. One had the impression that the whole world was going under. Such a massive and unrelenting drumfire I had never experienced before.

‘One of the first salvos fell short and we suffered our first casualties – from our own guns. We had one dead and a few injured. The VB (artillery spotter) for our attached artillery was positioned near me; he immediately had the firing stopped in our sector, giving fresh co-ordinates. The barrage began to come down further forward.

‘There was much apprehension among the men as we awaited the order to move forward into the blackness before us, which was being punctuated by bright flashes of exploding ordnance. Suddenly, behind us, searchlights shone against the sky, reflecting against the low clouds, thus lighting up the whole battlefield and surroundings. A shout resounded: “Company to attack, forward march!” Half crouched, instinctively presenting a smaller target, we cautiously began moving forwards, up the sloping terrain. Thank goodness we didn’t strike any minefields here. In a short time we arrived at the first houses of Hosingen, and opened fire at windows and doors. We had surprised a few of them in their sleep and at the far end of the village I could see American soldiers running from the houses. I even saw one of them in his underwear. Our Company had successfully captured the southern part of Hosingen. Behind the village our 10th Company regrouped and awaited further orders.’

The defenders of Marnach and part of Hosingen held their ground but were only too aware that German troops had already passed either side of them and were proceeding down the reverse slope of Skyline Drive. Back at the River Our the German engineers were feverishly erecting the bridges needed to get the panzers across.

Although Germans were passing through the thin line of defence quite easily, the two main villages atop the ridge held out. Without capturing the villages of Hosingen and Marnach the two main routes from the bridges remained closed. At Hosingen the aggressiveness of the attack faltered, much to Generalmajor Kokott’s disgust, and at Marnach to the north the leading battalion from the 2nd Panzer Division had run into an American minefield. It delayed them so much that it was now fully light and the covering fog had lifted. The Germans attacked in strength but were held back by Company B and a platoon of towed anti-tank guns from the US 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

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German artillery firing at night.

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Volksgrenadiers during their advance.

Just after 09.00 that morning the communication lines began to work again. Fuller telephoned Cota requesting that his 2nd Battalion, which was held in reserve, be sent forward to aid his other two battalions. Cota refused his request on the grounds that the situation had not developed enough to warrant committing his only reserve force. But, knowing that the 110th’s area was the most critical, he sent two companies of medium tanks from the 707th Tank Battalion (thirty-four Sherman tanks) to their aid.

On the arrival of the Shermans Fuller sent the tankers out piecemeal to different places to help the hard pressed infantry. He kept one platoon with him in Clervaux, and sent two platoons to Marnach. Other infantry from Company B’s 1st Battalion had tried to reach them but had been beaten back by the German tide. The Shermans made Marnach and cleared the southern approaches, one platoon was then sent back to help in the defence of another village whilst the other platoon of tanks was to move south along Skyline Drive and sweep the Germans from it as far as Hosingen. This they did quite successfully, and were relieved to find Hosingen still in the hands of Company K. Also, about a mile south of Hosingen at a crossroads marked by a café (Café Schincker) a small platoon of men held out. These, and the two villages of Consthum and Holtzhum were now the only places held firmly by the 110th Regiment, but ammunition was getting low, they could not hold indefinitely.

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German infantry crossing a river barrier during the Ardennes offensive.

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Tankers from CCB 10th Armoured Division take a break on their way to Bastogne.

Meanwhile the German engineers were still trying to erect the bridges, it was hard going, everything had to be done manually, and to compound the problems the Our River was flowing fast and deep due to heavy rain and melting snow.

Early afternoon and the bridge in the 2nd Panzer Division’s area at Dasburg was completed. The first panzers began to rumble across. It was not long before a tank approaching the bridge misjudged a sharp turn and crashed into one of the spans. There followed another couple of hours of repair work, by which time the engineers at Gemünd had completed their bridge.

The Germans now renewed their attacks with even more force. Now that the bridges were open, self-propelled guns and tanks could be brought into use against the stubborn villages.

Shortly after dark Marnach became the centre of attention. Company B held out for as long as it could. When it became known that the Germans were renewing their attack supported by machinegun-firing half-tracks the American defence finally collapsed.

That evening General Cota contacted Fuller to say that he was now releasing his reserve troops and that he had also released a company of light tanks held in the 112th Infantry Regiment area to the north. They were proceeding south to retake Marnach. Acting on this information Fuller immediately set to work to organize a plan for the next day. Both the 2nd Infantry Battalion and the company of tanks would combine for an attack on Marnach. What the American Commander did not know was that the town was already in German hands. At the very time that the American plan was being formulated panzers were assembling in Marnach ready for a big push on to Clervaux with its two important bridges over the Clerf.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz

‘On 16 December, in the morning, an attack was ordered with 2nd Panzer Division on the right flank, 26th Volksgrenadier Division on the left flank and Panzer Lehr Division in reserve. On 17 December 1944, Panzer Lehr Division moved in front of 26th Volksgrenadier Division. The engineer units of 26th Volksgrenadier Division had completed the necessary bridging to enable Panzer Lehr Division to break through, and it was hoped to push on to the town with this fast moving unit.’

General Fritz Bayerlein

‘In the original plan, 26th Volksgrenadier Division was to take the crossings over the Our, then those over the Clerf, and establish bridgeheads. Only after this would parts of Panzer Lehr Division thrust west toward Bastogne over the Drauffelt Bridgehead (south of Clervaux). As the attack of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division against Drauffelt did not succeed quickly and the American resistance in Hosingen and Bockholz on 16 December 1944 could not be crushed, units of Panzer Lehr Division, on orders from higher headquarters, were committed against Holtzhum and Consthum to win the Kautenbach bridgehead, and from there to push on to the west. The Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was committed first and, later 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment also was committed. The Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion took Holtzhum, while 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment attacked Consthum, which was doggedly defended. During this attack, 26th Volksgrenadier Division succeeded in capturing Drauffelt on 17 December 1944. On orders from higher headquarters, the attack of 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment was immediately discontinued, and the Regiment also moved through the Drauffelt bridgehead in order that a divisional attack could be launched against Bastogne.

In general, the plan was to thrust forward where it could be done quickest and easiest, and to commit our troops at the first point we succeeded in establishing a bridgehead over the Clerf.’

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To support the advance German engineers hastily threw bridges across rivers, railway cuttings and other obstacles.

At the end of the day, the Germans had not achieved their initial objectives, this was mainly due to the hold ups on the bridging, and the tenacity and aggression on the part of the defending G.I. But they were well situated for the following day’s drive.

That Saturday morning the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had attended the wedding of his orderly Mickey McKeough. That day he had also learned that he had been promoted to Five Star General – a day for celebration. The only thing marring it so far was the news that the band leader Glenn Miller was overdue on his flight to France.

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A .30 caliber machine gunner awaits the onslaught.

That afternoon in his headquarters at Versailles the Supreme Commander was holding a meeting with General Omar Bradley about infantry replacements for the depleted divisions. The meeting was interrupted with the news of the German attack.

Although the initial objectives of the Germans were not then realized, it was obvious that Middleton’s VIII Corps was being hit hard. Reserves and reinforcements would have to be sent. Bradley telephoned General Patton, who was in his Third Army’s HQ at Nancy, and told him to release the 10th Armored Division and move it up to Luxembourg City. George Patton bitterly protested as he needed it for his offensive in the Saar region, but was quickly overruled and told curtly that ‘Ike was running the war not him’.

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